The Dangote refinery is a 650,000 barrels per day (bpd) integrated refinery and petrochemical project under construction in the Lekki Free Zone near Lagos, Nigeria. It is expected to be the Africa’s biggest oil refinery and the world’s biggest single-train facility, upon completion in 2020.
It’s here that Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, plans to spend more than his net worth of $13.5 billion building one of the world’s biggest oil refineries. If he succeeds, he could end the irony of Africa’s biggest oil producer importing $7 billion of fuel a year, and instead see it meeting its own needs and supplying neighboring nations.
The collapse in the oil price and Nigeria’s woeful track record on industrial projects are significant risk factors. Yet Dangote’s bet has the potential to revolutionize Nigeria’s economy, with its operations adding $13 billion, or 2.3% to gross domestic product, according to a 2018 estimate by Renaissance Capital. Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele said that the project could employ more than 70,000 people when operational.
As Nigeria’s largest-ever industrial project, it boasts a distillation column for separating crude into various fuels at different temperatures that is the largest of its kind in the world. The 650,000 barrel-per-day refinery is just part of a $15 billion petrochemical complex that will also house a gas processor and the world’s biggest plant for ammonia and urea, which is used in making plastics and fertilizer.
“Nigeria will soon become the biggest and only urea exporter in sub-Saharan Africa for the first time,” Dangote said in March. “And we are not only exporting, we are exporting big time.” Fertilizer exports alone will generate about $2.5 billion in revenue annually, he said.
The company has opened talks with oil producers for the supply of crude to the refinery, although it hopes that within two years of beginning operations as much as 100,000 barrels a day will come from two oilfields it bought from Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Edwin said.
It’s “a game-changing development for regional supply,” said Jeremy Parker, an analyst at Citac, a London-based consultancy on the oil refining and distribution business in Africa.
It also benefits from government backing. “We are encouraging every participant to establish refineries in this country,” Mele Kyari, group managing director of the state-owned Nigeria National Petroleum Corp, said. The aim is that in two-to-three years “you will see a country that will become a hub of producing petroleum products,” he added.
Amid all the delays; with the initial opening date having been projected to be 2016, then 2019, the start of operations will now be pushed back to late 2021 due to the coronavirus. It is also entering a very competitive market at a time when refining margins are being squeezed by the collapse in oil prices. To be successful, the refinery will also need to displace the cartels that have dominated Nigeria’s fuel-import business for more than two decades, a source of wealth for the politically connected and motivation for the continuing dysfunction of domestic refineries.
Yet once up and running, it could be a strong symbol of industrial progress in a country that has had many false dawns in its quest to lessen its dependence on crude oil.